St. Louis artist Lyndon Barrois Jr. shows at Wilkes’ Sordoni Art Gallery
Lyndon Barrois Jr.’s work raises questions about what is attractive to the eye, but beyond the explicit aesthetic is an examination of the American social construct.
Barrois’ sculptural installation, “Of Color” is open now through May 21 at Wilkes University’s Sordoni Art Gallery.
His mixed-media pieces incorporate plywood, toner cartridge boxes and half-toned fashion images taken from print media to represent human figures — more precisely, athletes — on an asphalt basketball court.
One of the portrayed “teams” is robed with blacks and grays while another is adorned in subtle splashes of primary colors found in four-color (CMYK) printing: cyan, magenta, yellow and black (key).
Barrois said he became interested in color printing and the way CMYK operated, because he was pulling a lot of his material from magazines.
“I was curious about the way I was drawn to these magazine images,” Barrois said.
Barrois said he was curious about his attraction to these images despite his awareness that they were “highly staged experiences.”
“There’s an interesting way the colors work collaboratively,” he said. “That kind of collaboration was an interesting metaphor for me to human interaction.”
The artist’s use of empty toner boxes is more than a basic allusion to the print process that inspired him.
“I’m interested in marginal and discarded things … the things used on the way to producing the final images,” Barrois said.
Barrois was also inspired by a book by cultural anthropologist Michael Taussig titled “What Color is the Sacred?” where Taussig evaluated the historical and cultural context of color.
“Western perspective was that color had to be harnessed and used sparingly,” Barrois said. “It’s different in less modernized cultures where there was more of an abrasive nature to color.”
Taussig’s work suggests society has been trained to recognize bright color as a source of danger.
“Palettes of gray or brown are implicated as being more refined or elegant,” Barrois said. “(Taussig is) proposing that a treatment of color, in that regard, in life has some relationship to the treatment of people of color by Western society.”
Using the allegory of a basketball game, Barrois said, he was motivated by social trends he saw happening in St. Louis.
“Basketball is absent in Forest Park,” Barrois said.
Curious about the absence, Barrois said he realized there was a discriminatory reason for it.
“The folks in charge of that space have decided that that’s a place where certain people congregate and that they don’t want those people around,” Barrois said.
He also drew parallels between the public park and the public museum in which his art was viewed.
“They both claim to be public, but there’s an (unsaid) exclusivity,” Barrois said.
The artist was also intrigued by the role of athletes in society as both admirable figures and bastions of fashion.
“My grad school thesis was about looking at costume and linking athletes, superheroes and gentlemanly dress,” Barrois said.
“(My work) is recognizing athletes as these kinds of models. Professional athletes are paying so much attention to their bodies in a number of ways, not only to keep them conditioned for performance but having a fashionable sensibility off the court.”
Barrois said while the setting of the court and the athlete might resonate with a viewer as typically masculine, he is playing with more complicated perceptions.
“Some of those (images) are actually women’s wear,” Barrois said. “Exercising ambiguity in terms of gender association and assignment is something I’m interested in questioning.”
The installation premiered in Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis, where Barrois lives, but new to the Sordoni exhibit are four wall-mounted pieces depicting images from GQ magazine.
Titled “Generative Quotient” the wall series is both celebratory and critical of the popular fashion publication of which Barrois is both a fan and highly critical for its treatment of women.
“I’m excited about them,” Barrois said of the new pieces. “Your city is the first audience to see them.”
Barrois alludes to an iconic American musician as an individual who preceded him in questioning issues of race and sexuality, experimenting boldly with color and defying expectations and societal constraints — Prince.
“There was an almost obsessive sense of control he had about everything,” Barrois said of the late musician. “He tried to control his own narrative as much as possible. When we’re talking about representation, that’s of importance.”
“When we’re talking about versatility in style … wrapped in his approach, there was an ambiguity whether that was racially or sexually or musically.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @TimesLeaderMatt.
IF YOU GO
What: “Of Color” by Lyndon Barrois Jr.
Where: Wilkes University’s Sordoni Art Gallery, 150 S. River St., Wilkes-Barre
When: Now through May 21
Admission information: The exhibit is free and open to the public. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Sunday 12 to 4:30 p.m.